In Staten Island, New York, the killer of a gay Charleston man 23 years ago will remain behind bars after a state parole board determined his "brutal, merciless and hate-filled actions" make him a continuing danger to society. Michael Taylor, now 43, is serving a 23-year-to-life sentence for the January 1990 murder of James Zappalorti. Taylor viciously stabbed Zappalorti, 44, a mentally disabled Vietnam veteran, near a secluded brick-and-wood shack the victim had built close to his parents' home by the Arthur Kill. Taylor and an accomplice, Philip Sarlo, had set upon Zappalorti, intent on robbing him, as he returned home from a nearby deli. According to Advance reports, Taylor, who stabbed the victim three times in the abdomen, told authorities he "didn't like queers." The parole board, in part, wrote in its denial, that “"Your brutal, merciless and hate-filled actions against your unarmed and restrained victim because of his sexual orientation ... clearly demonstrates the extreme danger you pose to society. You acted in concert and targeted the victim ... for robbery because you felt he was an 'easy target' because he was gay. You took his money, repeatedly stabbed him, causing his death, and then took his keys and burglarized his home which was occupied by his infirmed mother." The board also noted the "significant community opposition" to Taylor's release and his "poor disciplinary record" in prison. Taylor is eligible to re-apply for parole in October 2014. Reached by phone Friday, the victim's brother, Robert Zappalorti, hailed the decision. "I strongly agree with it," he said. "I'm happy he's still in jail. As far as I'm concerned, he's unrepentant." Zappalorti said Sarlo, who died in prison in 1997 at age 33, had apologized to the victim's family at his sentencing, while Taylor remained mum. Each had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Zappalorti's death was the first murder on Staten Island officially designated a bias crime committed because of the victim's sexual preference, said Advance reports. Those records show the victim encountered his killers on the night of January 22, 1990, at a nearby deli where he bought beer. They accompanied him as he set out toward his shack, and after drinking beer and talking, Taylor pulled out a hunting knife. Taylor, then 20, demanded the $200 that he and Sarlo believed the victim had in his possession. In response, Zappalorti tossed his wallet into some nearby weeds. Taylor, enraged, stabbed him, Advance reports said. The duo rifled through Zappalorti's pockets, took $40 and the keys to his parents' home and dragged his body to the edge of the Arthur Kill. Afterward, they entered the victim's parents' home and ransacked Zappalorti's bedroom. When his mother confronted them, they said they were waiting for her son and gave her the keys. One of Zappalorti's brothers found the body in the morning. (There is a link at the source for blogger Jim Smith's account of the Zappalorti family's push to keep Taylor in prison.)
TMZ.com is reporting that Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and voice of Sesame Street character Elmo, agreed to pay the man who alleged the two had an underage sexual relationship $125,000 with a caveat – that the now 23-year-old Sheldon Stephens recant his story. According to the settlement, "Stephens agrees that immediately upon execution of this Agreement, his counsel, Andreozzi & Associates, P.C., shall release the [following] statement ... 'He [Stephens] wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.'" The settlement document goes on to say if Stephens is asked by anyone about his relationship with Clash, he must only repeat the statement [above] in the settlement that recants his story.
Seattle City Hall will open for several hours for wedding ceremonies on the Sunday after Washington State's new law allowing same sex marriage takes effect. Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn, said Friday that eight municipal judges are donating their time to marry couples between noon and 5:00 pm on December 9, three days after Referendum 74 takes effect. Couples will be able to pick up their marriage licenses and certificates on December 6, because Washington has a three-day waiting period, but the earliest time that a certificate could be signed - which makes the marriage valid - is that following Sunday. The Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger reported Thursday that it is donating $2,000 to help pay for materials, and that staff members will volunteer their time to help organize the event. R-74 had asked voters to approve or reject a state law legalizing same sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in February, but was put on hold pending last week's election. With 53-percent of voters' approval, Washington joined Maine and Maryland as the first three states to approve gay marriage with a popular vote. The laws in Maryland and Maine will not take effect until January. Six other states - New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont - and the District of Columbia already allow gay marriage, but their laws were enacted either by lawmakers or court rulings. Couples in King County will be able to pick up their marriage certificates and licenses on December 6. King County Executive Dow Constantine said he'll sign the first license.
In France, groups opposing President Francois Hollande’s plan to legalize same sex marriage and adoption took to the streets across the country on Saturday. Hollande said he would enact his “marriage for everyone” plan within a year of coming to power in May, but vocal opposition from religious leaders, some politicians and parts of rural France has divided the country. Saturday’s protest, called the “March for Everyone,” included pro-family and Catholic groups. Several thousand people marched in Paris, carrying signs with slogans such as “One child (equals) one father + one mother.” Their final destination was the Invalides monument, the final resting place of Napeolon Bonaparte, the French leader who invented the country’s prized civil code, which is still in force today. It states that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, a point the gay marriage bill seeks to overturn. Another reform would be to replace the entries in a child’s registry book from “father” and “mother” to “parent 1” and “parent 2.” Elsewhere, France’s largest demonstrations — estimated to be several thousand people strong — took place in Toulouse and France’s second city, Lyon. The marches Saturday had a dress code of blue, white and pink — putting a spin on the French tricolore flag’s traditional colors of blue, white and red. A recent survey found that most French favor gay marriage, while support for adoption by gay couples hovers at around 50-percent.
Adela Hernandez, a biologically male Cuban who has lived as a female since childhood, served two years in prison in the 1980s for "dangerousness" after her own family denounced her sexuality. This month she made history by becoming the first known transgender person to hold public office in Cuba, winning election as a delegate to the municipal government of Caibarien in the central province of Villa Clara. In a country where gays were persecuted for decades and sent to grueling work camps in the countryside, Hernandez, 48, hailed her election as yet another milestone in a gradual shift away from macho attitudes in the years since Fidel Castro himself expressed regret over the treatment of people perceived to be different. "As time evolves, homophobic people — although they will always exist — are the minority," Hernandez said by phone from her hometown. Becoming a delegate "is a great triumph," she added. Because she has not undergone sex-change surgery, Hernandez is legally still a man in the eyes of the Cuban state: Jose Agustin Hernandez, according to the civil registry. Hernandez, who switched back and forth between feminine and masculine pronouns when referring to herself during an interview, said she hasn't made a decision to seek an operation but doesn't rule it out either. Hernandez won office in early November by taking a runoff vote 280-170. Her position is the equivalent of a city councillor, and her election makes her eligible to be selected as a representative to Parliament in early 2013. For years after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, authorities hounded people of differing sexual orientation and others considered threatening, such as priests, long-haired youths and rock 'n' roll enthusiasts. But there have been notable changes in attitudes toward sexuality. "I would like to think that discrimination against homosexuals is a problem that is being overcome," Fidel Castro told an interviewer some years ago. Since 2007 the island has been covering sex-change surgery under its free health care system. Last year a gay man and a transsexual woman whose operation was paid for by the state garnered headlines for their first-of-its kind wedding. The country's most prominent gay rights activist is Mariela Castro, Fidel's niece and current President Raul Castro's daughter. As director of Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, Mariela Castro has instituted awareness campaigns, trained police on relations with the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community and lobbied parliament to legalize same sex unions. Born in a sugar town in central Cuba, Hernandez was disowned by her family and said it was her own father who reported her to authorities, leading to her imprisonment. She had to change towns and defend herself physically from attacks. Over the decades she found work as a hospital janitor, then as a nurse and most recently as an electrocardiogram technician. She also established herself in the community and as a longtime member of her neighborhood watch committee, which helped her win acceptance and laid the groundwork for her election. "My neighbors know me as Adela, the nurse," Hernandez said. "Sexual preference does not determine whether you are a revolutionary or not. That comes from within." As an elected official she promised to advocate for her constituents' interests, but said she also wants to be a voice for gay rights. "I represent a community but I will always keep in mind the defense of gays," Hernandez said.
British X Factor hotness Jaymi Hensley says that Louis Walsh encouraged him to come out. The Union J singer sought advice from his mentor on the show, who has managed top bands Boyzone and Westlife, about making his decision. And speaking exclusively to the Sun Saturday night, Jaymi said, “I spoke to Louis about this and he said, ‘put it this way, both of my big boybands had a gay member in them.’ So he said it fits the formula quite well! Every boyband has got to have a gay one! And Louis just said ‘do it’.” And Jaymi is delighted he did, admitting, “I’m gay and I’ve never been happier!” His band members have known since Union J were formed for this year’s X Factor and are fully behind his decision. He said, “They have always supported me with doing this. I didn’t want to do it in five years’ time when I have made money and had a career. I don’t think anyone should have to hide who they are.” Jaymi also doesn’t believe his decision will have a negative effect on the band, saying, “I’d love my career to take off to the heights of One Direction. But not enough people in the music industry are open about their sexuality.” The 22-year-old, who lives in Luton with his mum, Jackie, has been in a relationship with his boyfriend, 21, for three years. He declined to name his boyfriend, who is a hairdresser, but revealed the twosome plan to wed and have children. Jaymi decided to come out as he wanted to be honest with the X Factor viewers who have supported him and the band. In an exclusive interview, he said: “I came on to the show not wanting to be judged for my personal life. But people have caught wind of it and I just wanted to set the record straight. It is not a big thing for me — I came out when I was 14 to my family and friends and never had one piece of negativity. It is a brave move. There could be negative people, but they are just sad and stuck 20 years ago. I hope the reaction will hopefully be, ‘OK, we kind of knew, but well done on coming out.’ I don’t want people to think I have hidden this to gain votes because I am so proud of who I am. I hope people respect me for being honest.” Jaymi is not the only openly gay singer on this year’s show — joining Rylan Clark, Lucy Spraggan and Jade Ellis - but he was inspired to make his revelation after a young fan got in touch and he hopes it will help other young people struggling with their sexuality. He says: “I got a tweet from a boy who must have been 13 or 14 asking if the rumours that I was gay were true. He said he really wished I could be out because he didn’t have anyone to look up to and was finding it really hard to fit in and tell his parents. I was that kid at 14 and really wish I had someone to say it was okay to be pictured on the red carpet with a guy and be gay in a boyband. The X Factor is such a great show to show that — you’ve got such a great range of characters, especially Rylan who is so open. It was like if he can do it, why can’t I? But I’m not going to suddenly come out and do a flamboyant performance — that’s Rylan’s bag.” He was also inspired by other talent show stars such as Will Young and Joe McElderry who previously came out, saying, “They’ve been an inspiration and hopefully I can be one too. If I can help just one kid out there, that is enough for me.”